By Helen Bezuneh,
Special to the AFRO

The Black Choreographers Festival will celebrate talented Black choreographers on Oct. 13, 14 and 15 at Creative Alliance in Baltimore, Md. Working to honor Baltimore’s Black dance scene, the event will feature movement workshops, panel discussions, a networking event and performances.

“For a very long time, we haven’t really seen too much equitable space within the arts, specifically within the Baltimore region, but very much so across the spectrum within the arts community in all United States,” said Camille Weanquoi, co-founder of the festival and executive director and co-founder of the Baltimore Black Dance Collective. “We felt it was necessary to really take hold of making sure we provide a platform and a space for Black dance artists to be seen, heard and appreciated.” 

Weanquoi said Black artists should have space to “connect the community to the arts that exist within our region as well as outside of the Baltimore area.”

Weanquoi and Shianne Williams-Brown, co-founder of the festival and owner of Symmetry Arts, have been working hard to ensure the festival goes well.

“Camille and I have communicated with the venue, selected choreographers, panelists and workshop teachers. [We] set the schedule of events for rehearsals, shows, classes and panel discussion, updated the website and social media, reached out to organizations for funding and so much more,” said Williams-Brown in a written statement. “There are many things that go on behind the scenes to put on a smooth event like a dance festival, so we work hard to make sure our communication and organization needs are clear.”

“Symmetry Arts is a dance studio that fully stands in support of the ideas that the Black Choreographers Festival promotes: there are many talented Black choreographers and dancers in Baltimore that need a platform to be highlighted,” continued Williams-Brown. “It is great to have Symmetry Arts students, who are predominantly Black, to have this opportunity to see professionals on stage that look like them.”

Photo Courtesy of Black Choreographers Festival)

The two dancers founded the festival in 2020 in response to the U.S.’ tumultuous racial atmosphere.

“You’re probably familiar with all the injustices that were happening during that time,” Weanquoi told the AFRO. “There was a spotlight on supporting Black people and making sure that we have an equitable world. We believe that the arts can change lives, we believe that the arts are healing and are a way to break racial barriers and really provide [an] equitable landscape for our globe as a whole.”

“Oftentimes people don’t even know that these artists exist here,” she added. “We have artists who’ve toured with Mariah Carey, we’ve had artists who have gone and toured in Africa, Europe, Asia and they come back and make Baltimore their home. They bring their talents, their gifts, their knowledge to students at Coppin, students at Towson, students at Morgan, local dance studios and local dance programs. We felt that the best way for us to be able to amplify the voices of Black dance artists is to really put them front and center. That was really our impetus to create this.”

Attendees can expect a fulfilling and educational experience at the festival, according to Weanquoi and Williams-Brown. Choreographers will represent a wide range of styles, including Afro fusions, contemporary, hip-hop, ballet, modern and liturgical.

“They can expect a range of artistry from emerging choreographers to seasoned professionals,” said Weanquoi. “They can expect some insight into what Black dancers have been experiencing and going through as a journey through their career from the training stage all the way up to the professional stage. They can expect a weekend of fun and celebration and just really highlighting and uplifting Black dance artists throughout our region and beyond.

“This year, like the last two years, audience members can expect a very diverse show on both the Friday evening and Saturday evening performances,” said Williams-Brown. “These pieces offer a range of genres– from contemporary, to African, to hip-hop–that are very compelling in their own individual ways.  This year, we have extended the festival to a third day, Oct. 15, to host our workshop classes and panel discussion titled “Training, Where?”

Some choreographers featured in the festival include Stephen Hill from Harlem N.Y., Sade Morgan from Prince George’s County, Md., Quincy Dow from Baltimore, and Lia Haynes from Plainfield, N.J.

“The Baltimore Black Dance Collective was awarded a Creativity Grant for $4000 to support the upcoming Black Choreographers Festival,” said Laura Weiss, Maryland State Arts Council (MSAC) Arts Services program director, in a written statement. “The funding will specifically support payment to the many artists involved in the Festival. MSAC is proud to support the upcoming event highlighting the beauty and talent of BIPOC dance artists across the Baltimore region.”